Silent cuts

KFTL sends home 90 workers between May and June; company, union mum

Wednesday, August 23, 2017



A total of 90 workers were terminated between May and June this year by Kingston Freeport Terminal Limited (KFTL), the French subsidiary that has leased Kingston Container Terminal (KCT) under a 30-year concession agreement.

Highly placed sources at the company told the Jamaica Observer of the cuts, but were unable to say why they were made.

Attempts by the Observer over the past two days to determine why the workers were axed were unsuccessful, as Barry Wade from the Trade Union Congress (TUC), which represents the workers, was in a meeting at the port on Monday and could not speak. Repeated attempts to reach him for a comment yesterday yielded no results.

When the Observer contacted KFTL Chief Operating Officer Roland Grard yesterday, his immediate response after being informed where the call was coming from was “I have nothing to tell you.”

When the reporter replied, “But you don't know what I am going to ask you,” Grard went silent, then said “hello”.

“Are you willing to speak about happenings at the port?” the reporter asked.

In response, Grard mumbled something indecipherable then hung up.

The staff cuts came just under a year after French shipping firm CMA CGM Group signed off on the lease agreement and started operations in July 2016.

All 834 employees of the KCT were made redundant and relevant payments made on June 30. At the time it was reported that KFTL had offered employment to all eligible workers and would take on additional technical staff.

Last week, sources at the port described the TUC's silence on the staff cuts and other developments on the port as strange and accused the union of indifference.

“The TUC is doing absolutely nothing to support the workers,” said one port worker who asked not to be named for fear of being victimised. “The workers are getting one-year contracts and you don't hear a word out of the TUC.”

The recent problems at the port that resulted in haulage contractors taking industrial action have been partly blamed on a shortage of staff. The haulage contractors were frustrated with slow processing of containers and complained that the delays were resulting in significant losses to them. The Port Trailer Haulage Association also said that clients were questioning the levels of demurrage.

The recent strike was the latest of several protests stemming from complaints dating back to December, about slow turnaround times.

In addition to the staff shortage, the Observer was told that KFTL's switch to a new operating system also contributed to the delays in clearing containers.

“They didn't do a parallel run with the [old] system, they just switched,” one source said. “There is a problem with the system, there is a problem with the learning curve of the people handling it. The result is delays in how containers are being loaded and offloaded.”

According to the source, when KCT was in charge of the port they were able to get up to 36 and more moves per hour at shipside. However, after the operating system switch under KFTL, the moves per hour dropped to as low as four at times.

“Until the computer system issues are resolved they are going to continue to have slow movement at every level and the problems that the domestic containers are experiencing are going to continue for a while,” the source added.

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